by Roberto Quaglia
Anyone who is interested in the so-called facts of the world knows that beyond the kaleidoscopes of talks about minimal matters, the only question that really matters is: will the future of the world be unipolar or multipolar?
To be clear: the unipolar world is a world dominated by a single political pole, while a multipolar world is a world in which several important poles of power coexist. The United States has long expressed its intention to consolidate indefinitely their unipolar moment resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. We recall in this regard a famous speech by George Bush pronounced on September 11th, 1991, that is exactly 10 years before that other most famous September 11, a speech in which he solemnly announced the advent of a new world order, led by the United States.
And we also remember the equally famous document ten years later, by the American neocons “Project For a New American Century” – whose title is already a whole program. That of an American-centered world government is also a subject dear to the American science fiction literature of the 50s – I particularly remember Isaac Asimov claiming that either the world would have given itself a world government or humanity would have died out in a nuclear war. The naive axiomatic truth that this future world government would in any case reflect the fundamental characteristics of American society and values was quite evident in this literature.
These naive dreams finally faded once the reality check kicked in, or when, after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States found itself in the role of the only world superpower, the dawn of the United States unipolar moment. The American political scientist Francis Fukuyama at that point prophesied the end of history, with the Pax Americana there would be no more wars, and the western intelligentsia, so-called intellectuals, blinded by ideology, celebrated it. Well, guess what, history didn’t end. Even today the Western intelligentsia keeps celebrating Fukuyama – these are the mysteries of ideological blindness – but the future has turned out to be unruly, it has not wanted to end.
History, after a moment of apparent freezing, a bit like when Wile E. Coyote crosses the edge of the cliff and magically remains suspended for a few moments until he notices that there is nothing underneath and then falls. Well, after a moment of apparent freezing so did history, and the events then accelerated. The United States hastened to bomb nations here and there and to threaten anyone in the world who dared to object to any of their imperious orders. Many of us were upset. The idealists were upset, those who shared the so-called Asimovan dream of a future just and democratic world government, but even entire nations were upset, such as Russia.
After having abandoned the Soviet model and chosen the Western one, for a few years Russia had really deluded herself that she had been welcomed with open arms in the Western community. But then the world had to learn the hard lesson that there is no good power as such, and that anyone who had the monopoly of violence would end up abusing it. The USA became a global oppressor and so the world started producing antibodies and quickly began to react to the rampant US unipolar moment. The greatest nations, such as China and Russia, understood that they had to put themselves in a position to face US power on equal terms, or over time they would be mercilessly destroyed.
And this brings us to today, the period of transition from the United States unipolar moment to a multipolar world. The transition is in progress, and proceeds rapidly, even if it is not stated clearly in Western mainstream media. However, on the alternative information platforms, the topic has already been discussed in a thousand sauces, focusing on the military, economic, financial and monetary aspects of this transition. I have written a book about it, Il Fondamentalismo Hollywoodista is the title of my book (on English it would translate Hollywoodism Fundamentalism, but it’s noot translated in English yet – volunteer translators are welcome) – on the problem of the substantial unipolarity that still persists in the field of information and cinematographic and audiovisual production.
Today, however, I would like to focus on a rarely considered aspect – unipolarity and multipolarity in the field of science fiction literature and cinematography.
Science fiction is that area of the imaginary where one prefigures the future and thus contributes to creating it, and by consuming science fiction one is preparing for a future that is increasingly often already a present. In an age of technological advances too rapid to be able to take into account all the news, the future now is already affecting us every day, sometimes we feel a sense of wonder, at other times it confuses us, other times it is so alien and absurd that many of us end up denying evidence – in which case social peace is jeopardized, with people ending up fighting over what is real and what is instead imaginary.
But who produces science fiction?
For most people who experience science fiction just in movies, the prevailing notion is that science fiction is an all-American affair. Thanks to the visual CGI special effects, a field in which the Americans are now undisputed masters, but above all to the hegemonization of the audiovisual entertainment market that they have achieved over the decades. In this context we are still 99% in a unipolar world. Our cinematographic science fiction dreams are therefore largely devised in Hollywood – we dream of the futures that Americans decide that we should dream of.
In literature the situation is different, even though the symptoms are similar. For at least seventy years now, the bulk of relevant science fiction production in the world has been Anglo-American, but this is not a process of deliberate hegemonization of the field. The hegemony has come over time and for several reasons, and the main one being, at least from a certain moment onwards, the competitive advantage of narrative being written in English, a lingua franca in most of the world, and therefore easier to translate.
We could discuss this subject for hours, but I do not want to bore you. Suffice it to say that over time this hegemony, which arose spontaneously and initially for reasons of merit, was subsequently systematized and radicalized so that from a definite point in time, the literary science fiction market, in all of the world, has come to offer practically only works of Anglo-Saxon authors.
If such a hegemony in the world of cinema is relatively understandable – to make a film it takes important means, to which almost no one has access – such a hegemony in the literary field is a more fascinating problem – anyone who is brilliant enough can write a book. Then, of course, the problems arise when this book should be published, distributed and possibly even translated. The juice is that for seventy years, except as a small or negligible exception, (such as the masterpieces of the great Stanislav Lem), nobody in the world was interested in translating science fiction works that were not by Anglo-Saxon authors.
Leaving aside market considerations, a lack of interest has always reigned everywhere, even at the level of the public, in finding out what other points of view on the future existed in the world apart from the Anglo-Saxon ones. Suffice it to say that in many countries the few local science fiction writers could publish only by hiding behind American pseudonyms.
Well, the reason I’m talking about this is that something has recently started to change in this regard. A few years ago I wrote a piece entitled: “Seeking a Multipolar World Inside the Quite Unipolar Informational Medium“1 and then I also made a video with the same theme. People found this topic interesting and the piece was translated into 7 languages. In it I’ve explained that in the face of a reality of a world where the unipolar US moment is at sunset a new multipolar world is emerging, the field of information and entertainment nevertheless continue to manifest the United States unipolar hegemony – which is in dissonance with the trend change observed on a wider field.
But now here it is that, in the intellectual field that by definition relates to our future more than any other, that of science fiction, novelties have begun to appear.
Some time ago I attended the world science fiction conference, the Worldcon, which this year took place in Ireland, in Dublin.
The world science fiction conference is a big thing, thousands of science fiction fans come from all over the world and as do practically all the professionals in the field. Well, the big news of the last few years is the eruption of Chinese science fiction in the field. And beware: it does not appear to be a passing phenomenon. Chinese science fiction is in fact today supported by the Chinese state itself. That is, China has evidently decided science fiction is to some extent a strategic asset. Simple minded people would probably smile with sufficiency in front of such news, reducing it to the rank of mere curiosity, but anyone with a broader vision will sense the profound implications of such a decision.
China has decided that it is important, perhaps even crucial, to develop its own imaginary about the future of the world, rather than having it dictated exclusively by the Anglo-Saxon hegemon. Beware: in all this there is nothing hostile towards Anglo-Saxon science fiction. The greatest Anglo-Saxon authors are indeed honored, increasingly invited to China, translated in Chinese and published far more than before. But the novelty is that the Chinese are not interested only in Anglo-Saxon authors, as was common in the whole world until yesterday.
The Chinese are now also interested in non-English mother-tongue authors. Which means: They want a wide range of views. And above all they cultivate their new generations of Chinese science fiction authors and work to make them known around the world. In other words, the Chinese are introducing a marked multipolar orientation to a cultural sphere with a strong impact on reality, an area that until recently had always been a hostage to a unipolar status quo. And it was exactly what was missing in a world that was already moving in decisive steps in the direction of multipolarity in a whole series of aspects.
In Italy the first one to catch the paradigm shift in this field is the science fiction author and publisher Francesco Verso. With his publishing project Future Fiction he has already published several Chinese science fiction anthologies, presented numerous Chinese writers in our country, Italy, and he is a regular guest in China at conferences. He has also recently published an Indian science fiction anthology in Italy. Particularly interesting is the choice of Verso to publish the narrative in bilingual editions, the Italian translation together with the text in the original language.
At first glance this would seem a commercially suicidal choice, instead its editions are selling like hot cakes, a sign that there is an emerging band of public interested in a high and critical approach to science fiction. He is interested in supporting what he calls “narrative biodiversity”. I really like this expression, but I prefer to emphasize the multipolar value of this approach. It is the changing perception of the geopolitical orientation of the world, from unipolar to multipolar, which suddenly makes the “narrative biodiversity” interesting for a growing number of people in the world. You had narrative biodiversity also in the past, but nobody cared. This is changing now. The Zeitgeist is evolving.
To those who are already thinking that anyway few people read books nowadays and books have no impact in the world affairs, I must argue with an argument that they are able to understand: the same thing is starting to happen even with films.
The Wandering Earth is a recent Chinese science fiction film. We won’t delve now into the scientific plausibility of the film (science fiction films are usually less scientifically plausible than science fiction books), but from a technical point of view The Wandering Earth is at Hollywood levels. State of the art special effects, tight rhythms, excellent acting of the actors – in short, full respect for the form, the cinematographic “grammar” which the large Western public needs. But the plot has a completely different flavor compared to US-movies. The characters are almost all Chinese.
Americans do not appear, ever. We are told that they exist, but they are completely irrelevant. At one point in the film you can spot a little US flag, but this paradoxically underlines the absence of the Americans, their irrelevance. There is also a blond character in the film, a half Chinese and half Anglo-Saxon, and he is the “idiot” of the situation, the character you should laugh at. The plot of the film tells of the usual problem of saving the earth, but in the end of the day it is not a single hero to save it, as in American films, instead all together the characters collaborate for salvation. Furthermore, the solution will consist in turning around the problem, which is obviously a Chinese approach, without an enemy to be defeated, typical instead of the American and Hollywood mentality.
The Wandering Earth has been a great commercial success in China and has also achieved great appreciation from Western critics. What matters to us here is to note that China seems to have learned to use the forms and grammar of American cinematography to globally convey its visions and values, and to do this intentionally, just as Hollywood intentionally does. It is true that one swallow does not make a spring, but if a good beginning makes a good ending, it may be that even in the most popular art form in the world, cinema, we are perhaps witnessing the first signs of a transition from unipolarity to multipolarism.
The world science fiction conference in which I took part in Dublin was mostly about the literary aspect of science fiction – the one that interests me most. And in the face of a progressively decadent Western science fiction, at least in my humble opinion, a Western science fiction increasingly obsessed by the fashions and constraints of the politically correct at the expense of freedom, quality and originality of ideas, the promise of an emerging Asian science fiction is the most intriguing element I’ve found at this year’s conference. And as the icing on the cake, the Chinese are now also candidates to host the 2023 world science fiction conference in China. If they manage to get it assigned, it will be the first time. But in that case you can bet that it won’t be the last one.
November 12, 2019
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